Could there be a better escape from a simmering, sweltering summer's day than time on a river?
A time for new and old friends to gather near Svensen Slough to check over their boats and put on proper safety gear like a PFD prior to launching on an incoming tide.
Steve Gibons, the lead guide and co-owner of Scappoose Bay Kayaking takes no chances when the broad Columbia beckons water-based visitors:
“We’re about 5 miles above Tongue Point (near Astoria) and just off the backwaters of Prarie Channel," noted Gibons. “We are going to take advantage of today’s incoming tide and paddle up in the slough hen we’ll work our way on down with the tide out into the wetlands of the Lewis and Clark Wildlife Refuge.”
Gibons noted plenty of safety gear including a VHF radio and GPS as “must haves’ on this paddle adventure.
“So we can talk to the Coast Guard if we need to and we can also punch in and listen to the weather forecast. The GPS tells us where we are at all times and it really is important to have the right equipment all the time on the Columbia River.”
It was a dreamy day as tide, wind and sun merged to perfection so that we might paddle a stretch seldom seen so close.
Steve and his wife, Bonnie Gibons, often steer newcomers and experienced alike from inside the cockpits of the smooth-sided, 16-foot sea kayaks.
We are in familiar territory as the duo had paddled here for nearly two decades.
The boats easily moved in just four inches of water; so a simple effort to explore 8,000 acres of islands, mud flats and tidal marshes that make up the refuge.
Randy Wiltgen, a longtime accomplished paddler, noted: “The boats are stable and I think they’re even more stable than a canoe. You’re so low to the water. It really is amazing and you do feel like Lewis and Clark when you’re out here. It’s as though you’re discovering it for the first time.”
The Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1972 and consists of more than 20 islands stretching over 27 miles of river.
The stretch is also a part of the Lower Columbia River Water Trail: a 146-mile, bi-state reach from Bonneville Dam to the Pacific Ocean.
Here – on the quiet backwater of islands - you feel a closeness to an unchanged landscape - and even the natural history as Gibons showed off native plants called “Wapato” that are always by your side.
“It is a water plantain ands natives would carve small dugout canoes and the woman would tie them off to their waist with a sash or belt. They walked through the shallow muck and could feel the Wapato tuber with their toes and then reach out and wash it off. They would grind them into a gruel or mash almost that was high in starch and a main staple to their diet.”
Bonnie said that it is rare to cross paths with other paddlers on these trips – it feels a distant world away despite just 80 miles from Portland.
“You are out here with the wildlife and there’s usually no other people so it’s very calm and peaceful.”
Bonnie’s 10-year-old granddaughter, Baylee Harding, joined her grandparents on this trip and matched the adult’s paddle strokes with ease.
Bonnie added that Baylee sat in her first boat at age five: “I have never seen one kid that didn’t like it – they come back and they just love paddling. They love getting out with their parents in a tandem the first time and the next time they come out they want to be in their own kayak.”
Tracey Cole took her first lesson a decade ago and she was hooked.
In fact, her husband, Allan Cole, built her a stunning boat of cedar and oak and mahogany.
The two have traveled across the region’s waterways together ever since.
“There’s just something about wood that sets me off,” noted Allan Cole. “The look and the feel of it. Plus, it’s a hobby that keeps me occupied and I like to be able to use it too.”
Tracey Cole added, “That’s the beauty of living in the Oregon. If you have the time and take a notion you can grab your boat and be somewhere peaceful and beautiful and enjoy the wildlife in very short order.”
In short order we crossed paths with an aerial show that was astounding: two mature bald eagles locked talons in a moment of rare romance as they intertwined, spun through the air – helicopter fashion - until just the right moment to break loose. It was an incredible view and we felt lucky to have watched it.
It was one more reward for our paddling efforts across the refuge – plus, finding a comfort zone on the glassy water where confidence seemed to grow with each paddle stroke.
It was a day filled with summer’s glory, punctuated by intimate moments where nature’s touch restored the soul.
Randy Wiltgen offered, “The peace and quiet and tranquility to float along and let the current carry you. It is so quiet, relaxing and just a wonderful spot. Everyone deserves a break away to a place like this. I’ll be back soon.”
SWISS ALPS OF THE WEST AND WALLOWA LAKE STATE PARK
When artist George Keister searches for inspiration, he doesn’t look far beyond his front step in northeast Oregon.
Keister uses brushes and oil paints to capture the special places he’s been lucky enough to visit in a career that spanned nearly four decades as a state wildlife biologist
He developed a keen eye and appreciation for the vast eastern Oregon point of view and now he paints it.
“It is all so big and seems to go on forever, but when you actually start to paint it you need some kind of relief on the canvas. I can’t just paint a sagebrush and make it too interesting – that’s often where the wildlife come in.”
Keister paints the wildlife that live in the wild nooks and crannies of eastern Oregon. He said that too many people don’t make time to see the region:
“Too many people think they’re in eastern Oregon when they get to Bend. In fact, hey are just starting to enter it. I really like Wallowa County for that – it’s big, it’s beautiful and you have to come here, not go through here.”
One place to see and enjoy that “big…beautiful country” is at a state park that will capture your heart: Wallowa Lake State Park at the southern edge of Wallowa Lake near Joseph, Oregon.
State Park Manager, Todd Honeywell, said that visitors will find plenty of recreation in a year round campground that offers more than 200 sites for tent or trailer:
“It is a destination park! Everyone comes here because they want to – it’s not a place you just happen to hit on your way somewhere else. Boats, fishing, water skiing – you name it, we have it on the lake.”
Wallowa Lake State Park’s boat launch is free for anyone to use and have courtesy docks are available for boats as well.
In addition, there is no day use fee so you’re free to come in, sit on the beach, enjoy it or go fishing.
That’s not all - a recent addition to the parkland scene is newest site at the north end of the lake and is a 62-acre parcel of protection.
The Iwetemlaykin State Heritage Site is a rolling grassland set amidst stunning backdrop of the Wallowa Mountains.
Pronounced Ee-weh-TEMM-lye-kinn, the name translates to "at the edge of the lake."
The property is adjacent to a Nez Perce National Historical Park, site of Old Chief Joseph Gravesite and Cemetery.
OPRD Park Ranger, Madeline Lau, said that the area is the ancestral homeland of the Joseph band of the Nez Perce tribe.
It is a sacred place to the native peoples who helped secure its protection in partnership with Oregon State Parks.
“This park has a much more peaceful vibe,” said Lau. “It is meant for walking, experiencing nature and ideally – thinking about the Nez Perce history in this area and how important this land was to them.”
Nearby, another historic structure is worth your time for a visit: Wallowa Lake Lodge – the oldest private hotel at the lake that dates to 1923.
Like the nearby state park, the lodge is a convenient walking distance to varied activities that the entire family will enjoy.
Perhaps you will try something different too! It is a unique ride that offers a bird’s eye view when you go aboard the Wallowa Lake Tramway to the top of Mt Howard.
Rising 690 feet per minute, the tram ride is a thirteen and a half minute ride to the top. It climbs about 3700 feet to reach 8150 feet at the top.
You’ll want to make time to explore the 2-mile hiking loop atop Mt Howard where there’s plenty of space to spend plenty of time and gain a peek into Oregon’s largest wilderness area.
The Mt Howard Tramway will take your breath away with mountain peaks that have inspirational names like Matterhorn, Eagle Cap and Ruby.
Few places in Oregon allow you to stand shoulder to shoulder with a mountain range and vast wilderness area. It is the sort of place that makes you feel small!
The Eagle Cap Wilderness with bare granite peaks and forested ridges and u-shaped glaciated valleys characterize this enormous wilderness area of nearly half a million acres.
All of it is accessible to visitors who willing to take the time and explore a corner of Oregon full of wonder and surprise.
“It is the kind of place that takes a dedicated effort to get into because we’re at the end of the road, said local resident Steve Larson. “But when folks come here – almost universally it’s ‘Oh my gosh – this is a gorgeous place.’ Because it really is!”
BACKCOUNTRY BYWAY TO ROSES AND BUTTERFLIES
While seasonal changes may be locked into the annual calendar, isn’t it nice to know that nature can have her way and treat us to what we enjoy most at this time of year? More summer!
From atop any rising mountain like Bald Peak or Marys Peak, it’s the sheer size of the Willamette Valley that steals the scene.
There are spectacular views to the vast, wide-open spaces with small hills rising and falling and defining the flat valley landscape far below.
While closer at hand, lasting summer signs are missed by the passers-by who seem to scurry from this place to that.
Perhaps a stop at Champoeg State Park will change the pace and get you out of the race from this place to that - where campers bring in their homes on the road for an overnight stay and cozy up inside a spacious parkland to stretch the summer out a bit longer.
“We have a year round campground,” noted OPRD Ranger Mike Niss. “We have group and individual picnic areas, a boat and picnic dock on the Willamette River and we have a disc golf course. We also have one of the best bike trails in the state park system; it’s paved, flat and off the roadway and these amenities draw visitors to the park.”
Just down the road you will be drawn into colorful roadside roses that signal a family owned business that’s made Oregon history.
Heirloom Roses is a homegrown success story that is guaranteed to capture your landscaping soul.
“We have so much room to explore with five acres of gardens,” said owner Louise Clement. “And we have three thousand different species of roses on display, so it is amazing.”
Heirloom Rose Garden is located near St Paul, Oregon where you may stroll the grounds and admire a place where the “rose is king” thanks to Louise Clement and her late husband John Clement.
Heirloom owns a unique niche following more than forty years of effort to create “virus free” roses that are grown on their own roots (not grafted,) plus, the Clement’s introduced 60 species of their own hybrid roses too.
“We want to show people how roses can be grown in different ways,” added Louise. “So we grow them as hedges, grow them as specimen plants where you just have one and in rows so people can just walk along and visit each bush.”
“There is so much to enjoy on the grounds,” said Heirloom’s General Manager, Cheryl Malone. “The fragrance, the beautiful blooms and in fact folks will often say, ‘This is what I want in my garden.’
Heirloom Rose Garden is open seven days a week from dawn to dusk. And anyone can come at their pleasure and walk through the gardens – for free!
As farm combines harvest grain crops across the Willamette Valley, you’ll know you’re on the right track to reach another unique and colorful display that is open every day.
Bring a sense of humor when you visit Bob Heriford’s butterfly class at “Wings of Wonder” near Independence, Oregon.
Heriford’s passion has always been raising butterflies. It was a once a childhood hobby that morphed into the butterfly business five years ago at Wings of Wonder.
Bob and his wife Betty Heriford own and operate Oregon’s largest butterfly exhibit and on-site rearing laboratory.
“Some people are really into nature and the butterfly fascinates them,” noted Betty Heriford. “The color of the butterflies draws many folks and for others it’s the metamorphosis of the butterfly. People visit and enjoy our exhibits and Bob makes it all so interesting for everyone; from school kids to adults.”
Heriford also runs the ‘tight as a drum’ butterfly laboratory under federal and state permits and he provides visitors a guided tour of the facility too:
“Folks come in here and see 15 different species in different stages of chrysalis in here,” said Heriford. “Many species emerge within 2 or 3 days of arriving in a shipment while others require several months. So, there is always something incredible to see here.”
Heriford got hooked when he was a kid and he collected anything that would “bite, sting or poison.” But he said it was the beauty of butterflies that captured his imagination!
“The caterpillars were so cool! You could put them in a jar and watch them grow. It was the neatest thing and I always wondered: ‘How did they do that?’ Now I can stand back and watch!”
That’s what you get to do at Wings of Wonder when you step inside the huge jungle-like exhibit building that’s an average 70 degrees.
The butterfly building covers 2400 square feet and holds up to five hundred butterflies at any time.
As you stroll through the jungle-like exhibit hall you will see butterflies flying, resting and feeding.
So, what is the best time to visit?
“Noon to 2pm,”said Betty Heriford. “Because they have to wake up – just like us!”
The life span of a butterfly averages just 14 days so new additions arrive all of the time. That means there’s always something new to see at a place that brings a smile to your face.
BECOMING AN OUTDOORS WOMAN
When you go hunting for pheasant, be ready to put in your time and lots of energy – often you are pushing through thick, waist high grass.
On the EE Wilson Wildlife Area near Corvallis, newcomer Kelly Ruboin is on her toes because the pheasant can launch themselves skyward in a heartbeat.
Kelly joined accomplished hunter Mark Steele, and his hunting dog, “Neela,” for an afternoon in the field.
Mark is a volunteer guide who gave his hunting services over for a special day designed for women only.
In fact, two-dozen women gathered on the wildlife area to learn what upland bird hunting’s all about.
“Ok, Kelly,” coached Steele. “Walk right down into this field – a bird could be sitting out there fifty yards or so – if I was a pheasant this is where I’d be hidin ‘out.”
Ruboin, like many of the other women, has never done anything like this before. But that’s okay because she’s taking a class to learn how it’s done.
The EE Wilson Wildlife Area Pheasant Hunt is part of a unique Outdoor Skills program sponsored by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and it is called “Becoming An Outdoors Woman.”
The class was too good a deal for Kelly to pass up. For twenty-five dollars each woman learned hands on gun safety, hunting techniques, proper clothing, plus how to shoot and hit what they aim at.
Kelly said that her interest in the class was simple, “I’d never done it before and it’s just fascinating. I’d love to learn more about it because I’ve family members who hunt. If I could learn, maybe I could go with them.”
Michelle Dennehy, a public affairs spokesperson for the state wildlife agency, agreed and said she was attending the class - not as staff, but had taken the day off from work to participate as a student:
“These classes are designed for people like us – people that are new to the sport, a little bit nervous about handling a shotgun and don’t want to be rushed or pushed or anything like that.”
Experienced instructors from ODFW offered lectures on firearms and led the students through a number of exercises in proper gun handling and safety.
They helped to build confidence in the newcomers with an atmosphere of trust that paid off with relaxation and fun.
Betty Rose Richardson agreed with the theme and said, “ I love it! There’s so much opportunity for hunting and fishing in Oregon’s outdoors and this class is wonderful.”
That is a message that ODFW would like more women to hear!
You see, the agency sells approximately 300,000 hunting licenses and tags each year and women make up just 16 percent of the total.
Rick Hargrave, ODFW spokesperson, said they hope to change that percentage with specific classes that encourage women to participate:
“What our outdoor skills program does is plant that seed of interest – if it leads to hunting or fishing, that’s great – but if it leads to getting their families outdoors more often that’s even better too.”
EE Wilson offers nearly 1800 acres for hunters, fishers, hikers and cyclists to explore throughout the year.
Mike Moore, the wildlife area manager, said that the site was a military training facility during World War II and that today that means side benefits for the visitor.
“Well, we’re so accessible,” he said. “The road system that was left behind after the Army created easy access for people who want to ride bikes, ride horses and it’s also really A.D.A.-friendly. People who require a wheelchair find it a lot easier to get around here than some of the other public wildlife areas.”
Today, the area offers wetlands for wildlife, a stocked fishing pond to cast lures and a wildlife exhibit area where you can see many of Oregon’s upland birds on display.
Back out in the hunting area, Ruboin was on high alert and ready for her shot at a pheasant. She walked the field with “Neela” out front and on point.
Suddenly, two birds erupted from the grass, Ruboin tracked one of the birds as it flew to her left and away – she fired, but it was a clean miss!
Yet, she turned and smiled – full of enthusiasm: ”That was great!, she shouted. “This has been so educational even though I didn’t get a pheasant.At least I got a shot off. It’s so much fun! I’ll be back too.”